Seeing Stars: The Studio Tours


24715 Oak Creek Avenue, Newhall, CA.
(661) 255-4910 or (661) 286-4021


If you were a fan of singing cowboy Gene Autry, then the name "Melody Ranch" will raise fond memories of Gene and Smiley singing songs around the campfire. Gene's radio show was named "Melody Ranch," but a real Melody Ranch actually exists - a movie studio ranch in the hills north of L.A., where they shot most of Gene Autry's western adventures. And at least once a year, you can tour Melody Ranch, a colorful bit of Old Hollywood.

Melody Ranch started out as Monogram Studios Western filming site in the 30's & 40's, where hundreds of movies and classic TV westerns were shot, including 35 different John Wayne movies.

The studio began back in 1915. In 1939, its Old West town served as the location for the finale of the John Wayne classic, "Stagecoach."

In 1952, Gary Cooper shot it out with the bad guys in the unforgettable "High Noon". Gene Autry had shot many of his early Republic westerns here, including his first film, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."




Melody Ranch - c. 1956 (as seen in the movie "Man from Del Rio")

When the original owner died in 1952 and Monogram Studios went out of business, Gene bought the ranch, leasing its dusty streets and Old West buildings to various TV production crews for classic TV westerns such as "The Lone Ranger," "Gunsmoke," "Wyatt Earp," "Hopalong Cassidy," "Red Rider," and "Wild Bill Hiccock." He also produced shows of his own here, as part of his company, Flying A Pictures, including "Annie Oakley."

That is, until 1962, when a major fire in Placerita Canyon destroyed much of the studio. Elvis Presley was on location here at the time, shooting "Kissin’ Cousins," and helped fight the fire. Over the years, the Autrys sold off most of the ranch property, reducing it down to just 10 remaining acres, where the Western buildings stood, which he kept as a pasture for his loyal movie horse Champion III. He sold the remaining 10 acres when Champion III died and was buried there. Gene moved his large collection of Western memorabilia to his new Gene Autry Museum.

Fortunately, the Western town has been saved by the new owners who bought the ranch in 1991 and restored to its former glory .

The ranch is once again being today used for making movies; one recent production at Melody Ranch starred Jeff Bridges in 1995's "Wild Bill" (where it stood in for Deadwood, South Dakota) and "Sunset" with Bruce Willis and James Garner. They shot the CBS TV series, "The Magnificent Seven" at Melody Ranch, and even more recently they shot the highly acclaimed HBO series, "Deadwood" at the ranch.

Melody Ranch is a privately owned movie studio, and the public usually isn't admitted.

However, there is only one way to visit the historic ranch. On one weekend each year, in late March (or early April), they hold the annual Cowboy Poetry & Music Festival here at Melody Ranch (and at the adjacent William S. Hart estate).

The festival includes trail rides, chuck wagon meals, cowboy shopping, and assorted shows by cowboy crooners from seven western states and Canada. (such as Don Edwards, Baxter Black and Riders  in the Sky), staged at the Melody Ranch theater and the Hart mansion.

In 2014, the 21st annual Festival will be held on April 24-27.

Melody Ranch will be open on selected days, as part of the Festival.

There is no on-site parking at Melody Ranch. Shuttle buses take ticket holders from a parking area on 12th Street to Melody Ranch.  Admission is $20 for adult and $10 for children (or $30 for a two-day pass). For more information about the Festival, call (800) 305-0755 (for the hotline) or (661) 286-4021, or go to www.cowboyfestival.org.


Important Update: I'm told that there is now a way to tour Melody Ranch studio! They have recently opened a new Melody Ranch Motion Picture Museum, which is housed in the old Hacienda on Old West street. If you tour the museum, a walking tour of Melody Ranch's Old West Street is part of the package. It is a private tour arranged in advance for $40 per person. Call Sue Veluzat at 661-259-9669 to make a reservation. It is a private gated community. Ask Sue for a gate ID # to open the gate to the community, if you are planning to take the tour.


[Also see the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum.]

 Getting there: Melody Ranch is located far from Hollywood, north of the San Fernando Valley, in Newhall (near Santa Clarita), a few miles southeast of the Magic Mountain theme park. From Hollywood, take the Hollywood Freeway north through the Valley (about eight miles), to where it merges into the Golden State (5) Freeway. Take the Golden State Freeway north (for about seven miles), to were it intersects with the Antelope Valley (14) Freeway. Branch off on the Antelope Valley freeway and go about three more miles north to the Placerita Canyon Road exit. Turn left on Placerita Canyon Road, and head west (just over a mile) to the studio gate on Oakcreek Avenue.


[For more information on the Cowboy Festival, you can access the official Santa Clarita website at:
http://www.cowboyfestival.org.]

[For more information on Melody Ranch Studios, you can access their official website at:
http://www.melodyranchstudio.com.]



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Copyright © 2014-Gary Wayne
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